Brexit Splits British Families

Who knew Auntie held such views?

Natalie Collins wanted peace at her brother’s 30th birthday party on Saturday in Manchester, England. So she suggested that the crowd be divided into two groups like families at a wedding: Those who wanted the U.K. to “Remain” in the European Union, and “Leave” supporters, who had won a historic victory the day before.

Alas, Collins, 31, was plopped down at a table in between her two sisters, who peppered her with questions about why she voted for the U.K. to stay.

“I felt just totally annihilated,” she said. “It felt like I was in ‘The Matrix,’ and I was the only one who had swallowed the red pill. Or the blue pill. Whichever one it is.”

Around the U.K., people said they spent the weekend bickering with their relatives over Brexit, a decision that heavily split along generational lines and revealed deep divides within political parties. The division between prosperous London, which voted to stay, and pretty much the rest of England and Wales brought even further conflict. Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay.


Younger voters overwhelmingly fell into the Remain camp. But older Brits, who voted in greater numbers, were more likely to support an exit, according to survey data from polling outfit YouGov. So the result left a globally minded youth with the desires of their parents' and grandparents' generations. 

Markets hadn’t finished digesting the consequences of the decision by the time the weekend came around, and families got on trains or piled into cars to visit relatives.

Matthew Gartland, 41, said the conversation got heated when his family traveled to a weekend wedding. Feelings were about evenly split between the two camps, he said. Gartland, a procurement manager from the South Yorkshire area, said he had to explain that his issue was trade, not immigration. He took it personally when his wife’s cousin said on Facebook that everyone who voted to leave was a racist and bigot.  “In the next couple of months, I’ll be seeing him,” he said. “And then we’ll have it out. We’ll have a good, frank conversation about it.”

Andrew Gladstone-Heighton, 33, said he tried to avoid talking politics when his Leave-supporting mother-in-law came to Newcastle upon Tyne for a visit over the weekend. The detente didn’t last long.

“Within an hour of talking, we had to agree that we wouldn’t raise it any more, and hug and make up,” he said. “Family unity for my wife.”

Some found out for the first time that they held different political views from other members of their families.

Pippa Lowthorpe, a 22-year-old economics student from Kingston upon Hull, said she discovered the divide when her great-aunt started posting pro-Brexit messages on Facebook.

“I’ve never seen her so active on Facebook,” Lowthorpe said. “She usually only posts Candy Crush requests.”

After Lowthorpe realized that her pro-Remain views placed her on opposite sides of the debate with other friends and family, she started questioning some of her closest relationships.

“I just wonder how many other issues we fundamentally disagree about that will just never come up in conversation,” she said. “If my family can have such differing views, can my best friend?”

Collins said she was particularly conflicted when talking about it with her husband, who voted to leave and tried to convince her that the country would be OK.

“It’s almost like somebody’s died, and I know they’ve died and it’s really terrible,” she said. “And he’s not convinced that they’ve died.”

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